Sarcasm and Education: A Toxic Mix


Which sympathetic academic, when told that a student had lost a parent and could therefore not hand in an essay, gave this reply: “Where has she lost her – in the supermarket?” (From the website, “The Heart of Higher Education”)

Sarcasm. How I loathe it! But, it rolls of the tongues of some teachers so often that it seems to be accepted as commonplace, just part of the teacher rhetoric.

Yesterday, I had one such incident happen in my classroom. I will replay the scene.

I was standing in front of my “remedial level” class of sixth grade students, about to hand out a test, when the special education teacher began to call the names of students who needed special accommodations to another room. This is due to their Individualized Education Program (IEP). I always encourage my students to stay behind, and try to complete their work on their own if they want. However, yesterday, I had not suggested it yet.

As the special needs teacher called out the name of one particular student, this young man, usually timid and quiet, suddenly stood up and exclaimed, “I don’t want to go! I can take the test without the help!” I replied with excitement, “Yes, that is great! Stay!” However, walking out the door the special education teacher replied sarcastically, “Well, don’t blame me if you fail!” The young man’s face turned from joyful to deflated in a moment, and he replied, “Hey…..” As in, “Hey, that’s not nice.” I turned right to this young man, and I said firmly, “Don’t you listen to that! You can do it!”

I allowed the students to go ahead and take the test, but I was feeling several emotions: anger, frustration, but mostly disappointment. Why do some teachers think that sarcasm is acceptable? Why don’t they realize how much what we say counts? Words matter. They can build up or they can tear down. It is our choice.

After the test was complete, I decided to share with my students a time when I was placed in a remedial math class in college due to my low test scores. I shared my experience, but how I overcame it. I asked them to tell me why I would share that story with them. Why did it matter? Through discussion the students began to realize that it is normal to struggle, that it is good and important to seek answers to your questions, and that only the best and brightest people ask for help and seek answers to their questions, and most importantly, where you are does not determine in any way where you are going.

Now, I was happy to share that story with my students, and that one sarcastic remark led to a great teachable moment. However, I would have preferred that never to have happened in the first place.

There is no room for sarcasm in education. It’s not funny and it’s not cute. It is toxic.

How many students or educationally wounded adults could relate to Pink Floyd’s, “Another Brick in the Wall” lyrics?

Another Brick in The Wall Lyrics

We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom

Teacher, leave them kids alone

Hey, teacher, leave the kids alone
All in all it’s just another brick in the wall
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall
We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teacher, leave them kids alone
Hey, teacher, leave us kids alone
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall
 
 
Teachers- let’s rise up and create a different experience for our students! Let’s be the teachers that our students need and want.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
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